The Cambriol Riddle, Chapter Two–Following

The man who’d been following Djaren lately wasn’t visible from the dormitory window, Kara noted. He disappeared as quickly as he appeared and never entered any of the school buildings. Kara didn’t think he’d been watching Djaren for long. She’d been watching him back for the last two days.

The room was dark. The exhausted boys had fallen asleep without cleaning up the mess they’d made, cooking fish in the fire grate, and it was time for Kara to get going. The charwoman would have enough words for them about the mess. No need to add an unauthorized guest. Kara had her own apartments at the funny little Shandorian embassy, but she rarely used them. She went there to pick up letters—Jon’s simple little teaching notes, and Lady Blackfeather’s longer and harder to work through advice-laden letters—and to get meals sometimes. She didn’t like to be too predictable, and the thought of sleeping anywhere people could reliably find you still didn’t feel safe. She wasn’t used to beds anyway.

There was a nice little crypt under a chapel on the school grounds that she’d used a few times. It attached to the sewers by a small hole and had a scalable vent as a good second exit. She’d assumed the tunnel had been used by bygone bodysnatchers, but the femur had put the bygone part in question. The crypt was not a safe spot any more. She didn’t want to go too far, though, with that mysterious man tailing Djaren. She crept out the window and shinned down a cornice, then slipped across a series of low roofs and along a ledge into a lecture room window. From there she worked her way back down. The basement of a law hall turned up a wardrobe full of scholars’ robes, and Kara made a nest of them for the remainder of the night.

The next day she watched from a rooftop to make sure the boys were safely bound up in lectures and classes. She saw them wearily shuffle to their respective schedules and then went out herself to get hot curry buns and spiced tea from the vendors on High Street. It was odd being in one city so long. It bothered her that she was beginning to be recognized by certain people, like the street vendors who knew what she would order before she spoke. But they had no reason to betray her to authorities or enemies. She paid them what she was supposed to, out of the allowance she let herself spend after hoarding and hiding the rest of her weekly pay. She wasn’t even rude to the food sellers, like some of the students were, and she knew how to pronounce everything properly.

It made Kara oddly pleased to be able to buy the familiar street foods she’d once had to steal back in her old haunts, before she’d learned about trains and thieves’ networks. This city was big enough to have different sections with people, and food, from different countries. Kara had come to like several new things here, too, including Vespiri flatbread with different savory toppings, and Levour custard puffs. Djaren liked a bitter Vespiri drink that came in tiny cups, made him talk even faster, and kept him awake all night. His Kaunatoan roommates wouldn’t let him have any more after the first time. That had been the night he’d decided to take up Engineering, and built a model railway of suspension bridges in sticks and string all the way around the room. Nahaka had nearly strangled himself on it when he sat up in bed, and then he had nearly strangled Djaren.

Kara sat on a roof beside a gargoyle whose hollowed head had been keeping coins hidden for her, and amused herself by watching scholars run, robes flapping, across the green lawns late for classes. Djaren had classes during most of the daytime hours, though he didn’t have to spend time studying things afterwards like the others did, because he remembered everything without trying. He shared the bits he found most interesting with her in the evenings while they explored and mapped the city.

She should have known better than to agree to take him through the sewers. Now he was interested in just the sort of trouble she was supposed to be keeping him away from.

Kara frowned at a now-familiar hat lurking down below. Once again, trouble was following Djaren. The man wore a neat suit and gloves, and was of a wholly indeterminate nationality even to Kara’s practiced eyes. He was middle-aged, maybe, and carried a stick, and kept a notebook in his pocket. He waited, like she did, watching the lecture hall where Djaren was in class. If she let this go on any longer, Djaren would notice him, too.  It was time to deal with him.

Kara crept down the other side of the roof and dropped to the street. She circled the building to come up on the man from behind, and was pleased to find that he hadn’t moved. She found a nice spot to watch and wait, a few yards behind him in a dark alcove. When at last he moved, she was ready. He chose a narrow alley leading back into the streets, and she cut him off at the other end, hands in her pockets, where she kept her knives.

“What are you?” she demanded.

The man looked surprised to see her, but didn’t jump. He seemed a cool, composed sort. He raised his eyebrows in question. “I beg your pardon.” He spoke trade common with a faint accent, but not a clearly recognizable one.

“You keep following the Shandorian kid, you’re going to get really uncomfortable. I’ll tell you that just once.”

He looked more honestly confused now. “I have no interest whatever in the boy.”

“Then why are you following him?”

He gave her a considering look.

Oh. “You’re following me? How stupid are you? Why?” Oh. “Are you a detective?”

“You could say that, yes, of a sort.”

“Look, I don’t know where or who you’re from, but I haven’t done anything. Not all year. Two years, even. Stay away or I’ll cut you.” Kara fumbled with her knife in her pocket. Clumsy. Out of practice.

“I do believe you quite mistake me,” the man said. “I mean you no harm. Nor does my client.”

“Stop right there,” Kara told him, backing up. “No more clients. I’m done. I don’t do jobs for anyone anymore. Follow me again and I’ll hurt you. Your client, too.”

“Look here, Kara,” the man called after her.

No one knew her name. No one but her friends, and that was a short list. No one was supposed to know she was even a girl. This was bad. Kara dashed off into busy streets and away.

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